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Nia Franklin is Celebrating Winning the First Swimsuit-Less Miss America: “I’m a Part of History”

ICYMI, Nia Franklin went from being Miss New York to Miss America! She’s officially the first winner that didn’t have to be judged on how she looked in a swimsuit.

This year’s Miss America — which marked the first year of the organization’s rebrand as “Miss America 2.0” — unveiled a number of changes, including the axing of the swimsuit and evening gown portions. Both were replaced with sessions in which contestants are asked questions, rather than being judged on their appearance.  

“We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment” Gretchen Carlson, chair of the Miss America Organization Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”

Franklin said she was able to be judged on what she had in her “mind and heart.” Her amazing opera skills probably helped, too!

“I’m a part of history,” Franklin said on Tuesday’s episode of Good Morning America. “Miss America started off as a swimsuit competition, but I think it’s important that we’re evolving and I’m so excited to be a part of the new era.” 

She added that as the first Miss America 2.0, she wants to “do the most that I can this year to really have a firm foundation going forward.”

The changes (unfortunately) didn’t sit well with everybody. But any outcry over the new pageant was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Carlson. In a five-page open letter posted online, last year’s Miss America Cara Mund accused Carlson and the pageant’s CEO Regina Hopper of bullying, manipulating, and silencing her. 

Carlson has since refuted Mund’s claims in a lengthy Twitter statement. “Cara, let me be clear: We, as an organization, are very proud of you and all you have accomplished. You are smart, caring and ambitious,” Carlson wrote in part. “As a Brown graduate, you aspire to go to law school and one day run for Governor in your home state of North Dakota. You embody the mission of Miss America. I also want to be clear that I have never bullied or silenced you. In fact, I have acknowledged to you and your parents many times that the organization understands the frustrations of serving during such a change-filled and stressful year. It surely was not what you had expected. We’ve acknowledged your grievances, and taken many steps to try to make your experience a good one. You are at the epicenter of a very historic moment for women. Over the past two years, our country has undergone a seismic shift in how professional women are depicted and treated.”

Carlson added that “actions have consequences,” and Mund’s letter was directly responsible for the organization allegedly losing $75,000 in scholarships, “which would have been the first scholarship increase in years.”

At least 19 former winners of the Miss America pageant have called for current leadership to resign. The organization’s last CEO, Sam Haskell, was forced to do just that in December after leaked emails showing him and other Miss America leaders disparaging and crudely discussing the appearances of former contestants. 

Follow Allison on Twitter @AllisonMCrist.